1981 USSR Postal Stamp, celebrating the 26th Congress
The 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union opened on February 23, 1981 with a five-hour address by the General Secretary of the party and the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (president) Leonid Brezhnev. This was the last Congress of Brezhnev, who died in 1982. Soviet television viewers saw only the beginning and end of the ailing leader's delivery; excerpts from the rest of the speech were read from the studio by an announcer. Brezhnev proposed another round of arms control talks. At a time when an aging Soviet leadership faced a decline in economic growth, severe food problems at home, grave uncertainties about its future relationship with the United States, and unsettling events in Poland, the congress ended its week of speeches by unanimously confirming the existing leadership. For the first time in many years no one was added to the Politburo. The 14 voting members, whose average age was 69, and eight non-voting members (average age 65) were all reelected. None of the present members of the Politburo was a likely long term successor to General Secretary Brezhnev, who was 74. After ousting Nikita Khrushchev in 1964, Brezhnev did not repeat Khrushchev's mistake of placing a younger rival in a commanding position from which he could attain supreme power.